THE WASHINGTON POST – Dear Dr Andrea, I have become totally unmotivated. I guess it’s happened gradually over time, made far worse in the year of working from home. It’s like I can’t bring myself to do anything that I need to do but don’t want to: from small stuff like dishes to big things like work tasks.
I don’t think I’m depressed, even though as I write this out, it sort of sounds like it. I’m bored at home like everyone else right now and looking forward to getting out more once I’m fully vaccinated. What is going on? And how do I change this?
It’s certainly not silly, and you certainly are not alone.
We have a tendency to talk about emotional wellness in yes-or-no ways: You’re depressed or you’re not; you’re functioning or you’re not; you’re healthy or you’re not. But mental health is a lot more nuanced and dimensional than that. Whether you meet criteria for depression, this is an area of your daily life where things feel like they have slipped, and it’s causing you distress. And though it’s very, very common right now – it could even be considered normal, as a reaction to such an abnormal period of our lives – that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps to take to try to change it.
What you don’t mention is what you are doing when you procrastinate. There are many flavours of procrastination and amotivation, and the why and the how can help illuminate solutions. I am guessing your procrastination is of the self-perpetuating guilt variety, where you’re doing things you feel like you shouldn’t be (mindlessly scrolling your phone? Watching TV?). Your first step should be identifying the triggers that push you farther into that hole. Being tired, cabin-feverish or lonely? The siren song of a phone notification? The thought that the tasks don’t matter anyway?
Next, do what you can to counteract those triggers – from getting a better night’s sleep, to planning more social time, to starting each day with a walk outside, to turning your phone off for certain periods or reminding yourself that though the tasks can be put off, you are choosing to pay a mental health price when you do that.
Thankfully, you can condition yourself out of habits with small, consistent steps. Get just five minutes done of a task, and then let yourself move on to the procrastination activity guilt-free. Putting away seven dishes is better than putting away none.